The writer shares her experiences on opening up an Indo-French eatery in Jaipur
In my company CARMa Venture Services (www.carmaconnect.in), we have mentored over 6000 entrepreneurs, in the last 13 odd years. We have consciously been domain, phase and geo-agnostic and our own learnings have been immense as a result of that with all the rich cross-pollination. When my partner Dominique and I decided to start Concoctions, our Indo-French eatery in Jaipur, as co-founders we were an ideal partnership. Dominique is a French Michelin Star Chef with 45 years in the kitchens across the world. I am a corporate professional with over 20 years of experience in running global MNCs, and the last 13 years as an entrepreneur running a company that mentors entrepreneurs. Therefore, we figured it would be a perfect journey.
Much to our chagrin, we discovered there were unanticipated setbacks. Firstly, whilst as a couple we were great, as co-founders we were at loggerheads. His constant refrain was: you have never worked in a restaurant; you have never cooked commercially, so you do not know anything about this business. My argument was that I may not have run a commercial kitchen but I understand business, and how businesses run. Needless to say, neither was in a mood to listen.
The second bottleneck was Dominique’s 45 years in the kitchen. He had set ways of everything, right from vendor choosing to inventory to paying, to hiring teams. He relied on what he saw in commercial kitchens across Europe. In India, most of those rules were inapplicable.
We had therefore serious dissonance in our business model itself. I wanted Concoctions to be the IKEA in the food space. Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, had famously asked once, why should good design cost an arm and a leg? So I asked myself, why should good food be accessible only to those with higher purchasing power? Dominique came from a place where the fact that a Michelin Star Chef was curating and crafting food should command premium pricing. I think both of us were right but it did not help that we could find no common ground.
It took us both two months of grief, angst and heartache before we found a business model that worked for both. In addition, that decision came not from sanity but from the fact that we were physically exhausted, emotionally drained and began to regret starting Concoctions! That was the tipping point for both of us to go back to the drawing board and decide what’s good for us personally first and then professionally.
I am sharing this in a fair amount of detail because I have always advised my mentees never to bring personal and professional threads together. When we started Concoctions, we thought we knew each other as live-in partners, and therefore assumed that we would be the same tandem-playing people at work, too. We probably also assumed that given our ages and the maturity that came with it, we would deal with all the snags in an appropriate manner. But as we discovered, a couple in love and a couple working together are four different animals!
The other setback was that we let ourselves be influenced by public opinion. Everybody and his aunt said Jaipurites love going out for dinner, so you should keep Concoctions open till late night. It took us several days of sheer physical exhaustion to figure out WE DID NOT WANT TO BE A DINNER PLACE!!
I think in the last one month or so, we have acquitted ourselves admirably. We are open for shorter hours (11-6) because we said we did not start Concoctions to create our retirement fund! We encourage people to book tables before coming so that we are able to regulate guest footfall and pay personal attention to everyone. We insist people browse our menu on our website (www.concoctions.fr) and place an order for French Bakery, 24 hours ahead. We have switched to a Menu-of-the-day model whereby we are able to be outrageously creative, offer unusual, exotic platters, and not bore our guests and ourselves with sameness and predictability.
I do think we were able to do this because we sat down and asked ourselves two basic questions: What is Concoctions? Why did we create Concoctions?
The answer to the first question was that Concoctions is an intimate space, which offers amazing French and South Indian food, set in a beautiful indoor-outdoor ambience, decorated invitingly, and where food is cooked/baked by Dominique and me, served by us, tables cleared by us – all the while engaging with our guests in easy conversation. In other words, we have designed Concoctions as an experience, not just an eating joint.
The answer to the second was that we created Concoctions because we both not only love cooking/baking, but we love sharing it with people. We love customising, we love presenting and we love to watch their reactions as they take in their first mouthful.
That is when we realised that the first two months were a deal-breaker because we forgot why we started Concoctions! However, the moment we acknowledged our mistakes and the moment we decided we will never repeat any of our mistakes; we began to discover, along with our guests, the magic of Concoctions.
The columnist has commenced her fourth professional avatar with her bakery and restaurant business in Jaipur (www.concoctions.fr) with her French Michelin-star chef life partner. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org